Many Disney (NYSE: DIS ) traditionalists aren't happy about it, but the family entertainment giant has gone ahead and opened a Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX ) smack dab in the middle of Main Street U.S.A. at its popular Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida.
To be fair, Starbucks and Disney did go out of their way to make sure that the new coffee shop confines to the throwback nature of Main Street's charm, where barbershop quarters and horse-drawn trolleys take guests back in time as they enter Florida's most visited gated attraction. Ornate ceramic plates decorate the walls. Employees are trading in the modern Starbucks barista garb to don the traditional Main Street uniforms. Even the sign at the front of the store is the more retro depiction of the twin-tailed siren that Starbucks originally featured.
It all seems to fit in, but Disney blogs and discussion boards are alive with dissent.
"I don't think Walt would like this," writes a YouTube viewer. "This was supposed to remind him of his hometown. What were they thinking?"
Let's nip the accusations of caffeinated blasphemy in the bud. Walt Disney himself was no stranger to corporate handouts. The Mickey Mouse maven has resorted to brands to bankroll attractions dating back to the company's pre-Disneyland days. It was Pepsi that presented It's a Small World at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and then Bank of America sponsored the attraction when it opened at Disneyland two years later. Visitors to the building that has housed Magic Journeys, Captain EO, and Honey I Shrunk the Audience at Epcot have been treated to a Kodak-backed pre-show film that can be mistaken for an infomercial. Look closely and several Disney World attractions have corporate presenters.
Starbucks also isn't the first mainstream brand being brought into its parks by name. McDonald's struck a deal years ago to get its French fries into some kiosks and restaurants. The deal even carried over into Disney characters finding their way into Happy Meal toys. There may certainly be some concerns about children consuming caffeinated beverages, but fried unhealthy products promoted by a chain with a clown for a mascot is somehow more acceptable than Starbucks?
Purists will argue that the problem here is that Starbucks decided to replace the iconic Main Street Bakery on a street where Disney pioneers are honored with their names on second-story windows. However, I remember when the penny arcade building really was a throwback penny gaming arcade and when the storefront with the theater marquee actually played clips of old Disney features instead of trying to sell trinkets.
Things change. It's not always for the better, but Disney's theme park decisions often weigh nostalgia against moves that will improve the entertainment giant financially. Critics won't like it, but with ticket prices inching higher again last month and the park posting record attendance, it's hard to argue against Disney's judgment.
Disney's making a lot of money, and now it will be making latte money.